A third of sheriff court cases are now taking more than six months to reach a verdict in the wake of the Scottish Government’s closure scheme across Scotland, a report has revealed.
Audit Scotland said last year 35 per cent of cases breached the 26 week limit – the SNP’s own barometer for efficiency – which is eight per cent more than five years ago.
It comes after 10 sheriff courts across Scotland were closed in recent years by ministers at Holyrood.
But in the new report – ‘Efficiency of prosecuting criminal cases through the sheriff courts’ – auditors said the facilities have never had it harder.
It states: “The system for prosecuting criminal cases through the sheriff courts is under increasing pressure,” pointing out an increase in domestic abuse and historic sexual offences has added to the complexity of cases.
It also notes the Scottish Government opted to slash the budgets for both the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (14 per cent down) and the Scottish Courts Service (28 per cent down).
Last year, nearly half of summary cases (where no jury is involved) did not go ahead as planned, while around £10 million was spent unnecessarily repeating court cases.
And as well as the rise in cases taking more than six months, the report said 11 per cent of cases were now taking more than a year to conclude.
Remarkably, the report fails to mention widespread court closures, which have piled on additional work to those remaining facilities.
But experts and charities have previously pointed out that having fewer courts is making it harder to get cases concluded on time.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said:
“It’s clear from this report that courts are under increasing pressure as a result of the SNP majority government’s policies.
“The compromising of the efficiency of our courts is evident from the number of cases taking longer to reach conclusion.
“That’s bad news for victims and witnesses, and for the taxpayer who funds the court service to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.
“Audit Scotland states quite clearly our courts have never had it so tough when it comes to the volume and complexity of cases.
“More worrying still, things are only going to get worse as the full effects of the SNP court closure programme kicks in.
“This in turn raises serious access to justice issues.
“Instead of supporting our vital courts system the decisions the SNP government has consciously made over recent years have done quite the opposite.”